Tucson Medic Indicted For Sick Leave OT Fraud

A Tucson Fire Department paramedic is facing criminal charges for his role in a sick leave-overtime scam intended to pad his pension.

Herbert Oxnam was indicted on four felony counts of fraud for conduct that took place on a series of dates between May and August, 2013. The grand jury issued the indictment on December 8, 2014.

According to the charging document, Tucson’s pension is based upon an employee’s highest three-year salary including overtime. Oxnam was planning to retire soon and was seeking to increase his pension by working additional overtime.

On at least four occasions Oxnam paid other firefighters up to $200 to call in sick to create overtime opportunities when he was next to be offered the overtime. The prosecutor referred to the scam as a “Double Bill” scheme, meaning in essence that the city was being charged twice for the work.

The indictment indicates that lax oversight by the Tucson Fire Department contributed to the fraud perpetrated by Oxnam. However, prosecutors felt that charging others involved in the scheme would be “unjust” given the “institutional tolerance of shift trades/leave manipulations”. In the prosecutor’s own words:

  • During the administrative investigation, TPD detectives identified numerous institutional departmental irregularities in (1 ) how TFD employees conducted/documented shift trades, “stand-by” trades, and emergency leave, and (2) how management failed to maintain accurate time records on COT’s [City of Tucson’s] authorized roster reporting system.
  • While employees’ shift trades/leave practices without question required a level of scheming by TFD employees which could constitute probable cause, TFD’s institutional tolerance of shift trades/leave manipulations compounded by tacit managerial approval and/or poor oversight of documentation made criminal prosecution untenable. Additionally, ambiguity of definitions in TFD’s operating manual also created a defense to criminal intent.
  • Last, the undersigned prosecutor felt it would be an unjust exercise of prosecutorial discretion to single out one employee for conduct that was widely tolerated in the department. However, the investigation did identify a discrete “double-bill” fraud initiated by suspect TFD paramedic Oxnam not subject to the proof deficiencies described above.

Here is a copy of the charging document. Indictment

Here is more on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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